Why you need a manuscript assessment
February 03, 2016 at 2:00 PM
The benefits of a professional manuscript assessment and what's involved
So, you’ve just completed your manuscript and are wondering about your next step. First, I advise you to put it aside for a while. Return to it after a period of weeks or months when you’ll be better placed to be objective and to complete any further revising required. Check if there is anything about your book that could be improved and tightened. Ensure that you read the text aloud as a final test to find out if anything is jarring or overwritten.
I assume that you want to increase the likelihood of your book being taken seriously by a publisher. If so, get it in the best possible shape. Ensure the structure is watertight, the story is compelling and original and your characters are fascinating. Your manuscript should be error-free and ideally under 90,000 words.
Once you’re satisfied that you have revised to the extent of your ability, think about commissioning a professional, objective and in-depth opinion of your work that will identify any issues or areas of weakness and provide guidance about how they could be addressed. This will help you to become a better writer and understand how to go about revising.
The aim of the assessment process is to give a writer the kind of encouragement and direction that will enable them to do the revision themselves. An assessor’s suggestions may include discussion of how to increase the dramatic tension, how to add more depth to character depiction and suggestions about ways to maximise the possibilities of the setting or plot.
A professional manuscript assessment can be very useful, particularly for first-time authors, although even experienced and published authors can gain significant benefits from it. There may be consistent areas of weakness in your writing, which if identified and addressed could take your writing to the next level.
If you’re planning to self-publish and send your manuscript to a copy editor before it is fully resolved, you run the risk not only of wasting money but also of releasing a low-quality book onto the market that won’t be bought or read. A copy editor is not responsible for undertaking major rewrites or restructuring or adjusting characterisation, pace or plot, in other words carrying out any major overhaul of the book’s fundamental structure. And a copy editor does not undertake research to or seek permission to reproduce copyrighted material. These are your responsibilities as the writer.
A professional manuscript assessor will:
- Offer an informed, impartial and constructive opinion of your work. The feedback should be honest, yet respectful.
- Provide detailed written feedback in a report that covers the strengths and weaknesses of the manuscript.
- Provide suggestions on how to improve and rework it towards a publishable standard. If the work is fiction, this will include feedback on specific points that require revising, including characterisation, plot, structure, dialogue, setting, voice and style.
- Be an experienced reader of the genre in which the author is writing and have an appreciation of their target readership.
- Confirm the context for the book and how it fits with other similar books.
- Confirm if the style and the language has been pitched appropriately for the target readership.
- Comment on the overall length, and the effectiveness of the opening and ending of a manuscript.
- Give recommendations for next steps, e.g. the level of revising required and key areas of focus.
- Provide contact details of publishers that match the type of book. Where appropriate, self-publishing may be recommended as the most suitable option.
The difference between a manuscript assessor and a copy editor
These two services are commissioned at two different stages of a book’s development. A manuscript assessor will evaluate your manuscript at a macro level and show you how to polish your text. A copy editor will provide a line-by-line edit, which includes:
- Correcting any errors in grammar, spelling, usage and style.
- Checking sentence and paragraph length.
- Ensuring consistency in how words and phrases are used or not used.
- Checking the spelling of names, places and things.
- Identifying any potential legal issues in a book, such as breach of copyright and defamation.
If a publisher accepts a manuscript for publication then they will take responsibility for and bear the cost of the work of a copy editor.